Flying By The Seat Of Your Pants?
The Case For Developing A Marketing Plan.

By Paul Quinn, © 2002

Does this sound familiar? There's growing pressure to reduce costs and the large pool of money attributed to the marketing and advertising budget looks an inviting target for some 'selective pruning'. After all, who can really tell what last year's spend resulted in anyway? After contemplating the less-than-exciting demand from current clients and the continued flat employment growth figures, you do some rough calculations and decide to use last year's marketing budget less 10%.

Setting a marketing budget based on what you have spent in the past, as opposed to developing a marketing plan and determining the investment required to fund it is not an uncommon scenario for many recruitment agencies. For example, recruitment agencies have been known to continue to advertise in a particular publication, enter into sponsorship arrangements, attend a particular tradeshow or purchase a range of promotional merchandise, because "that's what we've always done and our business seems to be travelling okay". However, because there is no marketing plan (and often little measurement and accountability on prior activities) management often neglect to review and refine their spend to ensure they are deriving maximum impact for their marketing investment.

So why should I bother?

There are many compelling reasons why recruitment agencies should consider a more strategic approach to marketing. The development of a Marketing Plan can:(1)

1. Save you money because it helps to identify where to focus your marketing effort for the best return on your investment.

2. Save you time because you reduce the creative time and effort required to develop key messages, text and graphics every time you need new marketing materials.

3. Serve as a foundation and benchmark for all your creative collateral and assures consistency in all subsequent company messaging.

4. Promote consistency and trust in your customer relationships by scheduling regular, professional communications.

5. Grow your business by identifying gaps in your service offering. Analysing the needs of your clients and candidates and mapping these against the services you currently offer helps you to refine current services and develop new ones that more closely align with the things that your customers really value.

6. Say you're serious about your business. A marketing plan indicates to other people that you have given serious thought and consideration about the direction your company is taking, and increases your chances of success.

7. Assist in the budget development process. Your marketing budget is devised from the ground-up, based on the cost of implementing a set of strategic activities of relevance to your target market.

So, what exactly is a marketing plan?

Whether you call it a marketing plan or a marketing strategy, everyone has a different notion of what should be included. Irrespective of what you call it, an effective plan should focus less on the 'weight' of the document and more on the development of activities that add real and measurable value to the bottom-line. An effective plan is typically underpinned by marketing theory but is not dominated by it to ensure it becomes a succinct and useful tool that is regularly referred to.

The process of developing your marketing plan is just as important as the final document you produce because it is through the process that vital questions like, "How are we different from our competitors?" and "What are the needs of our target audience?" are answered. It also provides you with an opportunity to do some basic client and candidate research to gain an accurate picture of how your clients' view your agency compared to competitors. Believe me, it is not unusual for this to be a very different picture to the one you think they hold of you.

Below is a list of the key sections that Quinntessential include in the marketing plans we write for recruitment agencies:

Introduction and Background
Situation Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats, Competitor Analysis, etc)
Target Audience (Description and Needs Analysis)
Marketing Objectives
Marketing Strategy
Marketing Tactics
Action Plan (includes roles, responsibilities, timing etc)

Read below to view a more detailed account of what each section covers

It is easy to approach marketing with a 'fly by the seat of your pants' approach, but instinctively most managers realise that this is not the most effective way to run their business. Instead of taking a laissez-faire approach to marketing, take control. The benefits of developing a plan are numerous and far outstrip the investment you make in developing one. Not only will a marketing plan help you to make the most of the money you are spending, you'll also develop an understanding of how to deliver a message that is both relevant and valued by your target market. And finally, as the old adage goes, "Those that fail to plan, plan to fail."


The Contents Of A Marketing Plan - Unravelled

1 Introduction

Typically one or two paragraphs which introduce the company and provides an overview of what has been done to date. Often a company's business plan contains the type of information you normally see here. May also cover the purpose or intent of the document in this section too.

2 Situation Analysis

At Quinntessential we use the following types of analysis to help describe the current situation or environment:

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). Often represented in a table, this type of analysis focuses on the internal strengths and weaknesses of your company and the external opportunities and threats that face it. It is useful to understand these concerns because they can help shape your marketing messages to minimise weaknesses and maximise strengths.

Social, Technological, Economic and Political (STEP). Often these trends are already included in the SWOT analysis. However, by asking the question we ensure that nothing of significance is left out of your marketing plan.

Competition. Positioning maps are sometimes used in this section to graphically depict how your company is positioned relative to competitors against two criteria important to your customers. Some recruitment agencies have done research on their main competitors to further support their 'gut feel', and the findings are included in this section. The main reason for including this section is to understand how your company is different to competitors which again, helps shape a more compelling marketing message for your agency.

3 Target Audience

Use this section to describe the people you consider to be your target audience include information about their geographic location, demographics, and psychographic/life-style. Build up a picture of the type of people you are targeting. The advantage of doing this is that it simplifies decisions about where to advertise and the types of messages to use. Information from client testimonials, research or basic feedback forms is also included in this section. For example, a Client who is in the Insurance sector is likely to read different material to a Client who is in the IT sector, so your marketing mediums should be selected accordingly. Needs analysis is also conducted an often supplemented with research to help identify the key issues of importance to your target market.

4 Marketing Objectives

Your marketing objectives should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and linked to a Timeframe (SMART). Objectives should also align to the company's wider business plan.

5 Marketing Strategy

The marketing strategy should outline at a high-level the key strategy(s) that will be used by the company to achieve the desired marketing objectives.

6 Marketing Tactics

This section details the specific tactics that you will employ to achieve your marketing strategy. Marketing is all about effectively communicating with your target audience. Therefore, it is important that you include a section that outlines the key messages you want to project to your target audience. By this stage of the marketing plan, most companies have identified the key areas where they are different from competitors. These points of difference should be reinforced in your marketing materials and adopted in your branding activities.

A) Service and Price Tactics
Outline in this section the products and services that you offer and the associated price structure. Consider how you can bundle services to make them more attractive, or cross-sell/up-sell to increase sales. Outline the conditions under which you would consider discounting your service.

B) Promotion Tactics
There are many aspects to the marketing communications mix: advertising, customer service, personal selling, sales promotion (communication attached to an incentive), PR and publicity, corporate communications and physical evidence (eg, foyer layout), and word-of-mouth. This section outlines in broad detail the activities most appropriate to help you reach your target audience. It is also effective in helping to curtail marketing activity that is not strategically aligned to the objectives.

C) Distribution Tactics
Specify the channels that are used to sell your services, whether it is bricks and mortar locations and the Internet or just bricks and mortar. Outline the arrangements you have with other companies. Perhaps you have partnerships with companies operating in other States, or partnerships with companies in other fields (eg, training). This section helps you to establish if there are any gaps in your delivery channels.

7 Action Plan

This section can be developed as a calendar of events that outlines when marketing activities will occur, who they will be targeting and who is responsible for carrying them out. The major benefit of this section is that it helps you to develop a plan to ensure you communicate with your target audience at relevant times throughout the year.

8 Budget

The benefit of this section is the knowledge of what you intend to spend ahead of time. In developing your marketing and advertising budget based on the actual cost of rolling out planned marketing strategies, you help to ensure both budgeting accuracy and effectiveness (ROI) for your marketing spend.

9 Measurement

It is imperative to measure and record the results of your marketing activity because it enables you to become more and more effective each year, as you continually refine your plan to suit the changing needs of your target audience.


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